Judge says SBF has an ‘interesting’ way of answering questions: SBF trial live updates
Aside from SBF’s testimony, Judge Kaplan told lawyers he has to worry about the “deforestation” of America due to the volume of letter motions filed
Artwork by Crystal Le
FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried faces seven federal charges in a criminal trial taking place in Manhattan. The former crypto exchange exec is accused of misappropriating billions of dollars of customer funds for real estate, donations, political contributions and investments.
The current state of play: The prosecution is expected to wrap up their case this morning. They’ll end by putting an FBI agent on the stand. Then it’s on to the defense’s case, with Sam Bankman-Fried testifying. His testimony is expected to last most of the day and into Friday. Read more here.
6:15 pm ET: Sam Bankman-Fried is on the stand… with no jury
Bankman-Fried did indeed take the stand today, but things went down a little differently than previously anticipated.
Instead of the normal direct and cross-examination we’ve come to expect, Judge Kaplan excused the jurors and had SBF take the stand to testify in a hearing. He was still sworn in, but what he said Thursday might not make it to the jury.
The idea behind the hearing was to work out the several parts of SBF’s testimony that the prosecution already objected to, but the defense still wants to include.
Kaplan will make his final ruling tomorrow morning on what the jury is allowed to hear.
SBF faced his own lawyers first, with the majority of the questioning focusing on a mysterious document retention policy. Mysterious, because despite discussing its contents for almost an hour, the policy itself is nowhere to be found.
After Bankman-Fried’s mock testimony concluded, Cohen explained that Fenwick and West (the law firm that worked on the policy) rejected their subpoena to send it over.
Boiled down, a document that is key to the defense’s case is not in evidence.
The next topic was North Dimension and what SBF’s understanding of the firm was.
Bankman-Fried clarified, when asked by Cohen, that North Dimension was a part of Alameda and was created by Dan Friedberg. Friedberg, if the name strikes a bell for you, is SBF’s alleged “fixer,” though Bankman-Fried is painting a different picture than the one created by the FTX estate.
Friedberg was in charge of the North Dimension bank account forms and passed them to SBF for signing.
“I briefly reviewed them,” SBF said.
Friedberg was also in charge of the agreement for FTX customer deposits.
SBF then faced US prosecutor Danielle Sassoon, who had a different approach to his testimony.
More generally during Sassoon’s questioning, Bankman-Fried had a habit of apologizing if he didn’t “understand” or wasn’t responding to the “correct” question posed. Also when asked about what his understanding was of something — a document or a conversation — he’d repeatedly use the word “contemporaneously” to qualify his eventual answer.
Sassoon interrupted Bankman-Fried on a few occasions, only to tell him to answer her actual question. One example was when she repeatedly asked about the purpose of the North Dimension bank account and whose decision it was for it to accept customer deposits.
Bankman-Fried kept falling back on elaborating on a payment agent agreement between Alameda and FTX that he signed.
Sassoon also asked about the auto-delete feature of some Signal chats — a feature discussed in testimony earlier Thursday.
Specifically, Sassoon asked about the $13 billion hole and whether or not Bankman-Fried or ex-Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison discussed it on Signal.
“Probably,” Bankman-Fried answered, adding that he wasn’t sure.
SBF also doesn’t “recall” allegedly telling ex-engineering head Nishad Singh that preserving messages was “all downside.”
Sasoon specifically asked if Bankman-Fried had any paper communications with attorneys to which SBF said, “I believe we have requested some of those but have not been given them.”
An interesting answer given the fact that the Bankman-Fried trial is roughly four weeks underway.
Judge Kaplan, in response to Bankman-Fried’s answers, told him to, “listen to the question and answer the question directly.”
“Yep,” SBF responded. His tone remained even throughout the cross-examination by the prosecution, staying on par with the vibe he gave the defense.
A highlight of Sassoon’s time with Bankman-Fried was when she asked him if his understanding of safeguarding customer assets included not embezzling those funds.
Out came an immediate objection from Cohen and a sustain from Kaplan. Despite this, Bankman-Fried said yes.
Cohen laughed and told his client that when the judge sustains, he doesn’t have to answer.
“Haven’t you been sitting here for four weeks?” Cohen asked him.
“I felt the need to answer that one,” Bankman-Fried said.
The continued questioning by Sassoon led to Cohen objecting many, many more times.
“This is beyond scope, this is a deposition now,” he remarked after Sassoon questioned his client on the “allow negative” feature.
Kaplan said he would allow the questioning to continue.
“The witness has what I’ll simply call an interesting way of answering questions,” Kaplan said. “If you want to push ahead, it’s through this hearing if at all.”
SBF’s testimony, which began around 2 pm ET, wrapped at 5 pm ET. On Friday, Bankman-Fried is expected to take the stand in front of the jury.
1:55 pm ET: Kaplan strikes at the prosecution
Live from the courtroom: Michael Lewis. Yep, the author of “Going Infinite” is in the overflow room of the courthouse. In addition to a leatherbound case for his notebook, the author brought along “the largest paper clips I’ve ever seen in my life,” according to Blockworks opinion editor Molly Jane Zuckerman.
SBF is set to take the stand when the court resumes after lunch, at 2 pm ET.
As mentioned in the previous update, Krystal Rolle was the first to take the stand.
She confirmed previous testimony from FTX co-founder Gary Wang that Bankman-Fried’s father, Joseph Bankman, was present at the Nov. 12, 2022 meeting with the Bahamian regulators.
The provisional liquidator of FTX Digital Markets, the Bahamian subsidiary, was also present, Rolle added.
The three-hour meeting was part of an investigation the regulators were carrying out into the collapse of FTX, Rolle said.
After the meeting, the entire group — including the regulators and Bankman-Fried accompanied by Rolle — went to FTX’s offices. There, SBF transferred digital assets from FTX Digital Markets Ltd. to the Securities Commission of the Bahamas, after getting a court order to do so.
Bankman-Fried was required to turn over all the assets of FTX Digital Markets to the SCB, a process that lasted well until the early hours of the following morning, according to Rolle.
SBF and Wang surrendered their passports to the Bahamas Royal Police as a sign of good faith, with Bankman-Fried also agreeing to later interviews with the officers.
On cross, Roos established that Rolle, in her own words, “was not even familiar with FTX” and had nothing to do with how the customer funds were appropriated. This is central to the government’s case.
Joseph Pimbley, a consultant on financial issues and an expert on computer coding, then took the stand.
Fun fact: Pimbley’s going rate is $720 an hour and has worked more than 70 hours on the case for Bankman-Fried’s team. That comes out to more than $50,000. *insert swirly-eyed emoji here.*
SBF’s defense team tasked Pimbley with determining how much of its $67 billion line of credit Alameda actually used and figuring out the total balances of all user accounts, excluding those of Alameda and FTX itself.
From October 2021 to November 2022, Alameda consistently used more than $1 billion of its credit line. Nearing the collapse in November, Alameda’s usage surged to more than $5 billion, according to Pimbley’s research.
SBF lawyer Everdell then showed graphics detailing the total balances on customers’ accounts. With all tokens included, the November balance was $8.9 billion. The graphic showed that over 75% of that balance was held by customers who had engaged in spot margin trading, margin lending or futures trading at any point.
This is a cornerstone of the defense’s case. They appear to be trying to prove that the vast majority of FTX customers were engaged in programs that were inherently risky. And in some cases, these users agreed to lend their money to other users.
While the defense didn’t come out and say this was the reason for money on FTX vanishing for users, this can be interpreted as a strategy to create doubt in the jurors’ minds.
Thane Rehn led the cross-examination of Pimbley, and for a while, all was well for Rehn. He got Pimbley to admit that he didn’t look at FTX or Alameda bank statements. Pimbley also didn’t look at discrepancies between Alameda bank accounts or FTX hot wallets and what was owed to customers on the exchange.
Rehn ran into trouble when he started asking Pimbley about things that weren’t part of his analysis.
“He has told you” what he’s done, Judge Kaplan told Rehn.
Rehn’s questioning transitioned to mostly asking Pimbley about what was written on the various graphics he’d prepared for the defense.
Rehn riled up the judge when he persistently pursued a line of questioning to clarify that Pimbley only analyzed FTX database information, and could not speak to any information regarding Alameda and FTX’s bank accounts or holdings.
Judge Kaplan erupted at what he viewed as a directionless series of questions that were out of scope, according to the defense.
Using an analogy about working in his father’s deli, Kaplan noted that when his father asked him how much smoked fish they had on hand, it was more than evident that he didn’t need to count the pastrami. Or the macaroni salad.
The courtroom shook with laughter, with even Bankman-Fried giggling. Rehn quickly moved on.
The court broke for lunch and will resume with Bankman-Fried taking the stand at 2 pm.
10:55 am ET: Kaplan strikes down the defense’s attempt to invoke rule 29
FBI agent Marc Troiano took the stand for a brief testimony about the whopping 325 Signal group chats that Bankman-Fried was a member of in his capacity as an executive at FTX and Alameda.
Fun fact: 288 of the 325 group chats had auto-delete turned on.
The information about the Signal chats was obtained by the FBI from Caroline Ellison’s iPhone and Gary Wang’s laptop on Nov. 16 and 17 of last year.
The government mainly wanted to establish the sheer volume of these chats that Bankman-Fried was a part of, ending the direct examination of the FBI agent quickly.
Subsequently, SBF’s defense attorney, Christian Everdell, cross-examined the agent, repeatedly requesting him to read specific sections of the chart that displayed the Signal chats.
Judge Kaplan didn’t let this go on for long.
“This is not an exam for new eyeglasses. I assume [Troiano] can read just as well as anyone else,” Kaplan said. “This is not helpful.”
When Everdell left the lectern, the prosecution rested its case. Now it’s the defense’s turn to bring a case, which they confirmed they will (and we already knew thanks to the Wednesday phone call).
Before that can commence though, there was a bit of legal back and forth between the prosecution and the defense.
SBF’s lawyers attempted to invoke a rule 29 motion, arguing that the government had not put forth enough of a case to warrant a wire fraud charge or the money laundering charge.
Under rule 29, the defendant’s counsel can enter a judgment of acquittal basically arguing that there was not enough evidence shown to warrant a conviction on the charge.
The government opposed the defense’s rule 29. Judge Kaplan sided with the prosecution and denied the motion.
Krystal Rolle and Joseph Pimbley will take the stand ahead of Bankman-Fried. Rolle represented SBF back in the Bahamas and Pimbley — as we covered below — will speak on the exciting topic of data.
Rolle will provide a first-hand account of the meeting that took place between Bankman-Fried and the Securities Commission of the Bahamas on Nov. 12, 2022, to which Gary Wang testified.
Both testimonies are expected to last roughly 15 minutes, and then they’ll face a cross-examination by the prosecution. During the phone conference on Wednesday, the prosecution assured Judge Kaplan that they don’t plan to take too long on their cross-examination of either witness.
9:45 am ET: Sam Bankman-Fried takes the stand
It’s been about a week since SBF’s trial adjourned, and it’s getting close to the end. So close that we’re in the final stretch.
On Wednesday, Judge Lewis Kaplan held a phone conference with the prosecution and defense which was, shall we say, revealing.
Despite not even being certain that the defense would put on a case last week, Bankman-Fried’s team said yesterday that they will put on a case.
Oh, and SBF will take the stand.
The defense expects Bankman-Fried’s testimony to “take a good part” or “maybe all of Thursday.” Then, with cross-examination by the prosecution, that would take them into Friday.
SBF isn’t the only witness the defense plans to call. They’re going to bring up an attorney from the Bahamas, Krystal Rolle, Joseph Pimbley (more on him in a moment) and an unnamed records custodian.
If you’ve been following the SBF case, then Pimbley’s name may ring a bell. Pimbley is a database expert, and the defense wants to put him on the stand to “testify about a data pull that he did; not any analysis of the data but just simply pulling data relating to letter of credit balances that come off the AWS database and a chart of those balances,” according to defense attorney Mark Cohen.
Earlier this year, the prosecution filed a motion to block multiple witnesses from testifying on the defense’s behalf.
Kaplan sided with the prosecution on the motion, with a caveat. The defense had to file a motion — which it did — to prove that the witness could rebuke testimony from a witness from the prosecution. The government is allowed to object to the filing though. Isn’t the legal system fun?
Prosecutor Thane Rehn told the defense and Kaplan on Wednesday that the government “won’t object to the authenticity of the data” and will proceed with a cross-examination.
Putting aside the expected witnesses, the final days of the trial — mind you, the jury may still take a while to decide whether or not SBF is guilty — may happen Monday or Tuesday, according to the conversation Wednesday.
Kaplan told the prosecutors and Cohen, “we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
He’s slightly more concerned about the “deforestation” of America following the multitude of letter motions filed during the trial’s break — and the letters he expects to receive after the conference.
“Among other things, I have to cope with the deforestation of America by virtue of the manufacture of the papers you have all submitted on the charge,” he snarkily told lawyers yesterday.
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